CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers have been through this before, finishing a game on their last able linemen.
This one was different, however, as they held their breath and hoped that left tackle Jordan Gross would get up.
Gross went down in the first quarter of the Panthers' 24-9 win over Atlanta, after taking a knee to the head while trying to make a back-side block. He lay face-down for a few minutes, not moving and sending a huge scare through his huddle. He was up a few minutes later, and lucid enough to talk to some teammates at halftime, but the fright was evident as they talked about it.
"It's a sickening feeling," quarterback Jake Delhomme said. "You realize right then and there that this is much bigger than the game. We could hear him, he was coming to. You prayed that everything was fine.
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"I'm looking at extremities and saying, 'Move, move, move.' I just wanted to see that."
Gross was gone from the locker room when reporters arrived, but his teammates said he was able to talk a bit when they saw him. "He was a little loopy, but I think he's going to be OK," Geoff Hangartner cracked, fortunate that it was the subject of a joke.
"We'll just have to see if he's able to go next week," said Travelle Wharton, who moved over from left guard to replace Gross.
Typically, players who lose consciousness because of concussions miss time, though it's unclear at this point how severe Gross' problem was. It would have also helped if it were the only one the Panthers endured.
Rookie right tackle Jeff Otah left the game in the third quarter with a sprained ankle. He said afterward it was his right, not the left, which was problematic for him dating back to his senior season at Pitt.
That left the Panthers to finish with all the blockers they had dressed for the game. Hangartner slid into Wharton's spot, where he had started the last two games when Wharton was out with a knee sprain. Jeremy Bridges finished the game for Otah, as he did in San Diego.
"Flexibility is important, as we found out through experience," coach John Fox said. "You need guys who can swing and play different positions, and I thought that was beneficial today.
The Panthers only activate seven blockers per game, with Frank Omiyale and Mackenzy Bernardeau in street clothes as part of the inactive list. Had there been another injury, 260-pound tight end Jeff King was the next man into the breach.
"That's definitely not part of the plan," Hangartner said with a laugh. "We don't want Jeff King out there taking tackle sets."
But not only did the last men standing finish, they excelled.
Delhomme wasn't sacked, and they ran well enough (33 for 107 yards) to maintain some balance to the offense. The fact they did it without their franchise player and their first-round pick made it all the sweeter.
"More than anything, it was a lot of heart," center Ryan Kalil said. "Guys were just really getting after it out there."